Debbie Hu - Well if everybody is everybody then maybe baby can be a nipple too? Baby looks. Inside is stuff. Baby decides. The inside stuff can be milk too. Baby tries to be a nipple of milk too. // "almost but not white" // "why won't you let me show my nipples"

Debbie Hu, AIRY BABY: AN EQUAL TO THE ATE NIPPLE?//I worry/I don’t/Believe in Books/or do owly///. Perfect Lovers Press, 2013.


Debbie Hu wants you to think about baby, but all I can think about is what baby means for poetry. Mac Low starts off his 17th dance with the realization/instruction, “Someone has a baby or seems to have one.” Yes, obviously, we are always having some kind of baby. Notley—to whom Hu gives a much necessary shout out—once questioned, “Do you think women & men have kids in order to become immortal?” Why baby and why now? Are we making baby or is baby making us?  Is it baby or the process of baby? Poets used to have babies now they have the Internet.  Poets today let their babies do unfathomable things and leave their tiny baby lives in shambles. Contemporary Poet Jennifer Pieroni’s baby is primarily unlucky. In “Unlucky Babies,” she locks her baby out of the car and does not even allow for it to learn to type. Contemporary Poet Chelsey Minnis puts her baby on secret trial: “A baby on 9/11 was definitely in love with me and the parents did not know.” Hu’s baby lives in a similar place. It is part voyeur, part chauffeur, and part Gucci waiting in the wings.  She writes:
Baby has no laundry machine, only a writing conceit. The baby thoughts of
the baby writing
machine, uploading a picture of herself on the internet, looking suburban.
Baby tries hacking her
relationships with words like love letters like the write combination will
crack the chains & change
a mind & minor upheval. But the effects are weird on the heart. So baby
goes back to writing
words for baby eyes only.
Hu’s baby has been taught to type because Hu’s baby is sometimes herself. Most often, though, baby is more of a symbolic bystander than a conduit. Baby is not always the most important thing but this book seems to be baby’s own creation. Perhaps it would be best to say that Airy Baby, is a kind of intertextual baby book; for the gentle omnipresent-omniscient baby, there is Ke$ha. There is charming organizational risk AKA formal chaos. There is the political as it battles with the personal. There is Cantonese then New Zealand. There are penises or shame. The narrative voice is distinctly cohesive yet polyvocal in a very necessary way.
Hu switches between the hyper casual and the “large idea” casual. She goes from “I wore a candy stripe dress / To the General Assembly and my pleaseface until I / Become a pop star my pleaseface is a dontrapeme pleaseface becuz / stay away my cunt smells terrible” to “it wounds me to read that she craves solitude and no / accountability, I feel like I am all despicable money” in just one page. She is sometimes Gurlesque transgressive in a blunt way like Ariana Reines, but most often a very idealistic type of gross-delicate, something that makes me think of Jenny Zhang’s first collection. Feng Sun Chen, from whom Hu quotes extensively, also comes to mind.
While very much composing a “poetry” book, the pieces are sometimes epistolary fragments and other times stolen bits from the pages of some tangentially yet brilliantly related thing. Airy Baby has titled sections, but they’re largely irrelevant; demarcations and page numbers become nobody’s business. Pieces start and stop wherever they’d like—pick back up then quit again.  Baby, itself, operates similarly, waiting in the background for its opportunity to be the savior or the disgrace. To be the distraction. Baby is present for pages then not at all; it vanishes.
There are epiphanies laced throughout but, much like the emotional content of the book, these realizations are muted. The writing is laced with a certain sense of overwhelming comic unhappiness—the kind of thing that surfaces with any period of introspection. Hu jokingly alludes to David Foster Wallace in the book’s preface, and, like Wallace, uses footnotes to distract and “confuse” the reader. Here, though, it would seem that Hu employs these asides to soften the intensely emotional or personal. We are always returning to humor because humor is the only way to comprehend humanity.
In the final pages of Airy Baby, Hu offers one last reflection on baby:
Baby finds everything boring
Baby feels like everything
Baby identifies with baby tyrants
(Is baby a baby tyrant?)
Baby is a moody baby
Baby is a gendered baby

Is baby just Kathy Acker or Ariana Reines?
Poets love baby because baby is the blank slate thus perpetual new beginning. Baby is everything then nothing then everything again. We can live vicariously through baby, watch baby grow, and then leave baby to nothing. Thank god for Debbie Hu who has chosen to–in all of the chaos of life’s frustrating ambiguity—let baby live. Cassandra Gillig

all yr hurt flows
after Anne Boyer
“Intellectual women who have feelings like THE COW.  Gay men like THE COW.  Men who like to have sex with women who have a lot of feelings like THE COW.  People who like things with good style and no typos do not like THE COW.  I can sympathize with them, but those people are not my problem.” - Ariana Reines
Some people don't like my writing.
Intellectual women who have feelings don't like my writing. Gay men do not like my writing. Men who like to have sex with women who have a lot of feelings do not like my writing. People who like things with good style and no typos do not like my writing. I can sympathize with them,
But I'd like to know why I feel people's eyes glazing over when I say things like “I'm oriental.”
For some reason that makes people feel like they don't need my story.
            & in the weather pattern
            by your guilt or
                                                curiosity piqued by
                        my LOVING de-formed alienation
I'd like to show that alienation is a writing prompt
I want to not be afraid of the reserves of alienation I hold
            in my body
I want to listen to it and let it come out like music
I dream poetry that colonizes the internet like a wound
Where nothing goes viral like discontent
Spreading from eyes to stomach to heart to head to mouth, to each mouth
So that whenever one opens their mouth in shock or horror or disgust or outrage
That there are words
ready, words to give speech to the speechless & phrases for tears
words for the numb
I want people so open & porous to each other
that a shock to one body
is a shock to the entire network,
where the things that get amplified
are cries of injustice
(Can the People's Mic accommodate everything?)
(Mother, I have within me
voices and visions.)
It will be so much of everything all the time.
It will be over over overwhelming
            and de de de destabilizing
And all the things you thought you wanted or needed
            will come to seem strange,
                                                                                                stranger than bad writing, or good writing,
                                                                                                            writing that's more than good
Questions of craft will be made irrelevant
& the hungry
            will be
                        given food, just to make the
& the hatred of rapists & abusers & bullies & war makers will be visible & known
there will be an enormous transmission of public anger
when the public is so angry that it becomes a real war against those who hate us
when the sick are so loud in their neediness that every spare resource is given for their comfort
and when the babies cry we do not enjoy their song but we respond because their cry has lodged inside of us
& laughter, too, will spread as earthquakes spread –
we will especially laugh when things are true.
                                                It is not difficult to get the news from poems.

            No poetry but in lives.
Poetry becomes the sublimely useful tool
I remember when we came out in public and found
that we each bore
important messages.

(What “we?”)


you wanted to sit in the sun & because you are unfit-
fully my Muse I
"where did the sun go?"

you wanted to sit in the sun so we sat on a bench.
I loved it, there was even a butterfly,
& on the next bench
a suited woman gone limp &

"that reminds me of this thing."
you have so many things
"that reminds me of this thing my friend Lorraine told me about called Paris Syndrome."

it is May and I am fit, I am full,
I am faithfully glowing
in the basin parts of me for you, still
still, "there are two kinds of conversation people have"

you gave me a duty-
free cigarette I

in 2010 I met you & we drove out from Chicago together
our car broke down in a place I called Eunoia
& eventually I threw away the pad
that had been collecting, for days, my blood.
what a period!
yesterday I texted you back that I was on day one of my period &

fifteen minutes later I said,
"Cat, Dick is withholding text messages from me!"
I showed her the timestamps.
I was hungry and bleeding and my mother is in Shanghai. I spilt some Cheerios then texted you again but everything autocorrected to, "I suck."

today we are walking down 5th Avenue.
I am half-thinking of conversation topics but none of them seem that fun.
"what are you thinking of?" you ask

I am thinking about racism and money.
I am wondering what music you've been listening to. but I say,
"none of the things I am thinking about seem that fun."
your impishness seems a little slower than usual when you say,
"well, I only like to talk about fun things, so..."
and I spit back,
"I'm not necessarily worried about YOU having fun!"

because really I just want to be totally blissed-out and I say as much.

in the movie of this there would be cuts of lust filled fantasies but I am just sleepy and bored of your friend Eugene, my breasts are heavy and I felt embarrassed when you knew I wasn't wearing a bra when we hugged each other through thin shirts, that was sexy.

and sometimes the page becomes just like you and I don't know how to put things down in Complicated Simplicity (which was the name of my first blog).

no I want to write this again to reunderstand it though I am tired and sort of sunk, you know? is it already time to cook broccoli?

(writing it again)


you wanted to sit in the sun and because you are fit-
fully my muse I
"where did the sun go?"
you wanted to sit in the sun so we sat on a bench.
I loved it, well I have always
known there was something ugly about
white men
& you are one & you want to be a good feminist
& also fuck women well I want to fuck
(but I don't trust) you because you are
a bad feminist.
charismatic men are inevitably bad feminists.

and you are no exception
though charismatic men inevitably seem like exceptions.

but, as Lauren Berlant says, love is
The Amnesia You Like

also, you're wonderful
have I mentioned you're wonderful?
I've only seen you six times
but every time I see you I take home a basket of softly glowing anecdotes.

also (who knew this poem was going to be about my mom?)
today is Mother's Day.
my mom emailed me yesterday, after she had somehow found her way into my poem Shanghai is, like, 12 or 14 hours ahead of New York so it was Mother's Day over there I guess even though it's an American Holiday and she sent me an email called, "thinking of you on mother's day" and the body of the email said,

Dear Debbie,

I was reading this quotation and thinking of you today:

"The most important thing I learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one."

Hope to see you soon, and we love you!


the incrimination of the email, the incrimination of me & her self-incrimination & her self-forgiveness & also her forgiveness of me, in sending the email--
it was too much
or I am too American
for this. I love terribly across
time differences.

every girl I meet has something
she wants to write about
but is afraid of being stigmatized
for. where is the article called
"I was Raped at Occupy Wall Street by Your Friend, [Name]"
"I was Raped by an Anarchist at Occupy Wall Street"
"I was Raped by a 99 Percenter at Occupy Wall Street"
"I was Raped by a Serial Rapist with a Foreclosed Home at Occupy Kansas City"
"I was Raped by a Revolutionary During the Revolution"

I don't care if you're having fun.

Over 20 percent of rape complaints were recently dismissed as "unfounded" by the Oakland Police Department, which did not interview many, if not most, of the women involved. Not coincidentally, the vast majority of the complainants were Black and poor; many of them were substance abusers or prostitutes. EXPLAINING THEIR FAILURE TO PURSUE THESE COMPLAINTS, THE POLICE REMARKED THAT "THOSE CASES WERE HOPELESSLY TAINTED BY WOMEN WHO ARE TRANSIENT, UNCOOPERATIVE, UNTRUTHFUL, OR NOT CREDIBLE AS WITNESSES IN COURT." - [from a source cited in kimberle crenshaw's "intersectionality," 1990]


I'm too tired to keep writing this poem
I know nothing except that I will go to sleep
unsatisfied, unless I write myself inside-out
first. it seems hard to put your "all" into poetry.
just peeing out words at this point.
marie calloway liked my essay on tumblr--
so I have to write something awesome now, if only for her
and jackie wang and nathaniel otting

if you wake up late enough in the day
someone might have already sent you some pee over email
especially if you sent them pee the day before
I think my writing might be more with it than i am--it is living out there and being admired on widely-read tumblrs

I feel like people would always want to text back "To Heartbreak Hotel"

today I ate shit. I ate an Asian pear and two pieces of bread with peanut butter and then nothing for hours, I fell asleep because I felt like such shit & I know that this is ordinary but I have to write it

because after I woke up I ate a grapefruit & I don't know why I picked this moment to continue writing when obviously I just need to GET FUCKED preferably by the 2 or 3 ambient crushes I have

"Heartbreak Hotel" is just like me,
it is getting liked by popular white girls.

And Cat said it's weird that I draw with dark lines but I really think that the lines have to be strong and true when you start or else they'll never become strong and true.


the ambient nipple
i wanna slurp it
yup i wanna sublet that nipple for the summer
the mosquito bit my cheek
my mosquito bite turned into a nipple
yup if I'm good enough for Dick to brush his arm against unsteadily then I"m good enough for his
penis to go into me
I relied on Hannah Manshel to make Heartbreak Hotel
I relied on JR Martin to make Heartbreak Hotel
and now I'm getting all this social capital
and I don't even know what social capital means!

feeling weird I turned on my phone and typed the following poem to Austin:


ambient mom
ambient homesickness
ambient heterosexual males
ambient desire
ambient fear
ambient regret
ambient nipple
ambient hate crime
ambient racism
ambient obviousness
ambient obviousness
ambient oviousness
ambient internet
ambient lena dunham
ambient empire
ambient compassion for the working class

ambient class analysis
ambient defeat
ambient urgency
ambient waiting
feminist waiting
feminist insomnia
feminist lagging
feminist itching
feminist failing
feminist wandering
feminist crushing
feminist texting
feminist reaching out
feminist feeling neglected
too erotic
too neurotic
too erratic


like a girlfriend I am going to seduce you with my whimsy and bomb you with my depression I'm going to make you listen to me talk for hours
my depression bomb will make a crater in your body
and I will fill it with
all of my neediness
and all of my emotional baggage
until you can barely walk with the weight of it all
and you are going to feel guilty
and you are going to try to avoid me
and I will know why
and I will seduce you again
and you will love me again
and it will not be good for you
no it will not be good for us
because I am a bad girlfriend.
only bad girlfriends, marie calloways, lesbians, and sex workers.

but that too is only a fantasy because who is the bad girlfriend bad for if not mainly herself? and men always have their WORK that they are able to escape into, the world of men that holds them, the philosophers who speak to them and help them forget their misery.


I had a dream about the Golden Gate Bridge,
which I have looked at with Google Street View.
there was a ring of NO TRESPASS signs in the middle of the bridge
it was causing so much congestion


suddenly, there you were in the middle of the signs
standing up, dusting yourself off
you'd been lying in the sun on the Golden Gate Bridge
i dreamed my way into how that must have felt:

your whole body pressed against warm concrete
suspended between sky and water
and your ears and nose filled with car sounds and car smells
and like what if you died

i don't know i just want it
i want your stinking sun

(subtitle, courtesy of Jesse Darling: compulsive and wounded)

Chen Guangcheng is coming on the right day!
To go through the authoritarian state,
a hero. By appealing to the Premier Wen Jiabao...

I can't tell, if he has extreme poverty or
extreme wealth of imagination?
Oops sorry I'm being mean

New York is filled with lovely people and
I am one of them??
writing out of what definitely looks

like a mood.

I'm on the L train
a girl is lip-synching
so fresh

copying my poems over again
reading my poems over again

oh no a girl is vomiting
it's acid fresh

to be a poet is to be the poorest
of artists how little
words can do

bourgeois people
looking at me for
bemused solidarity re: vomiting girl

yuck yuck yuck

the vomit
the floor

are you amused yet
by what I"m leaving?
we talk on the phone for 7 hours
incredibly, a ghost rides through
the chocolate center of the cake on
the back of the other ghost
while you masturbate!!!!!!!!

i wish words made
                            interesting patterns
for stoned people to look at.
yup yup
we are walking all over st. mark's place looking for restaurants
and every boyfriend has to listen to me talk

they really do.
they really really really really really do.
are you still listening?

i remember me when i was still delightfully shy.
now i'm publicly bored.
how many lives have you lived, debbie hu?
and are you still relieved when you're able to shed it all?

clever hypothetical scenarios trolley
and this poor girl keeps vomiting
and i'm not going to describe what she looks like
i told austin that i never want to be physically described

to a white person,

i don't want them to use the word "chinese"
and i don't want them to not use the word "chinese"
and rob horning has already gotten me mixed up with jane hu

i am anxious to pee every last thought

(on the day where we began this poem, you were telling me about how you've been getting into
trouble for wanting to have nonmonogamous relationships with girls. recently you began getting
serious with a girl, and you said to her, "i'll be monogamous with you if that's what you want, but
that's not my preference, and also i don't care if you see or sleep with other people," and she got
there seems to be a community feeling that you're an asshole, and you were wondering if it's
kind of the equivalent of getting slut-shamed. you said, "like, i really feel like i *am* a slut, like

interesting patterns

i'll meet a girl and i'll just want to be her little slut, to please her, so if pleasing her involves like
acting like her boyfriend, i just fall into doing that, and then it's weird when she realizes that that's
not actually who i am."

i said, "maybe the problem is that the way you attract women is by being a charming straight
white male, and people have all sort of fucked up desires and expectations surrounding straight
white maleness," and you said, "well, i kind of think that that's not my problem."

thinking more about how you see yourself as a slut, i said, "maybe you're just a

"yeah, but for every heartbreaker there is an equal and opposite heartbreaker."

"what do you mean?"

"i mean, there's always someone who can break my heart."

"right, maybe that's what happens at the end of your movie."

"...or the beginning of my movie."


"or maybe the end of one movie and the beginning of the next one.")

To Heartbreak Hotel*
Slow Mood Movement*
money money money money*
why writing for moonroot is scary and anxiety-inducing but also a stressful site of possibility.

Douglas Watson’s debut story collection is chock-a-block with deaths, births, sea and land voyages, excursions to the library, philosophical asides, and things like wolves. People fall in and out of love, walk in and out of buildings, take two steps forward and two steps back. Futility is a theme of the book, but so is the necessity of trying.

Douglas Watson, The Era of Not Quite, BOA Editions, 2013.


Douglas Watson's debut story collection is chock-a-block with deaths, births, sea and land voyages, excursions to the library, philosophical asides, and things like wolves. People fall in and out of love, walk in and out of buildings, take two steps forward and two steps back. Futility is a theme of the book, but so is the necessity of trying.

"Watson lards his metaphors with specifics."—Kyle Minor

“Herein find fiction full of whimsy, wit, hurt, and terror. Wicked, as in wickedly funny, is in the mix, too, along with a prose style both seductive and sly. Any one of Doug Watson’s first collection of stories, The Era of Not Quite, can mend a broken world.” -Christine Schutt

“Once upon a time, an acquaintance of Kurt Vonnegut, having read all of the writer’s books, accused Vonnegut of putting bitter coatings on very sweet pills, and I am here to level the same charge against Douglas Watson. Yes, this collection is a relentless catalogue of frailty, folly, and mortal misery, but if you look beyond the cholera, the neck wounds, the burning feet, the bleached bones, the voids, the caves, the deaths at sea, the stillborn babes, the senseless yearnings of the heart, the grief and despair and profound loneliness, then what you will find, reader, is a tender, lovely, elegant celebration of the very idea of life, of living. These are vital and exceptional tales. -Chris Bachelder

Excerpt from "When the World Broke"

When the world broke, a certain farsighted county commissioner announced a storytelling contest.
     “Whoever can tell the story that fixes the world,” she said, “shall be a hero to the people and shall receive a hero’s pension for the rest of his or her days.”
     The county commissioner sighed, for the word days belonged to the unbroken past. Since the breaking, there had been only twilight, a perpetual neither-this-nor-that. Schools of thought had arisen to argue whether the world was getting imperceptibly darker or lighter, but the county commissioner had closed the schools down. The world didn’t need another argument—it needed a story...

If, as the book Hal Walker returns to the library in the opening scene of “The Era of Not Quite” suggests, the Era of Not Quite has been “running continuously since the dawn of human history,” it would explain a lot. In fact, it would explain everything: from unrequited love to a man’s brain in the street. For what it means to live in the Era of Not Quite is to reach for a thing, and not quite seize it. And then to keep reaching.
Watson is a very smart writer, and unlike many uses of that word—“smart”—in this context, I mean it here as a compliment, not a way to dismiss a work as technically clever but lacking heart or sincerity. Watson’s thoughts on this tension illustrate his sensibility as a writer: “I do think heart, or ‘heart,’ is important to my fiction—or any good fiction. Of course, you need blood too, or ‘blood.’ Can’t have one without the other. The mysterious stuff of life, in other words.”
Thus, on one hand, The Era of Not Quite is a stunning example of Barthes’ notion of the “writerly text,” a text that challenges the reader by constantly calling attention to its constructed nature (think Borges’ “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”). Some of the greatest pleasures of Watson’s collection are the jokes he plays on the reader. For example, there are two distinct characters named “Douglas Watson” in The Era of Not Quite, and in the middle of the book, there is a…story? (one wonders what exactly to call it) titled “Special Advertising Section,” in which the marketing division of the Estate of Douglas Watson apologizes for the fact that The Era of Not Quite is not a novel.
On the other hand, because everything in the collection is in tension with its opposite—especially play and sincerity—this is a book in which literary criticism literally kills and the clever theories of music critics lead one narrator to complain, “Talk about missing the point.” This is because for Watson, the smart stuff isn’t about technical or philosophical bravado—it’s about fun. When I asked him about maintaining this tricky balance in his work, he called in an answer from Playland: “Well, the best way to strike a balance is to stand on two feet. If you stand on just the play foot, you’ll fall over into Playland. And if you stand on just the sincerity foot, you’ll tip over and be completely lost in Sincerityland, which is an even worse place to be than Playland, believe me.” Then suddenly he was serious: “My mother, who loved words and was better at them than I am, once approvingly quoted someone—I don’t remember who—as saying that anyone who thought words were mainly for communication was a fool. I’m paraphrasing. The best thing to do with words was have fun with them, the person said. Maybe it was even a quote on the Scrabble box, for all I can remember. My mom and I played a lot of Scrabble, and I’m happy to say that she won more than her share of our games, even toward the end when she was really very sick and didn’t have much energy.”
Watson isn’t much of a self-promoter, and he’s a fairly private person. He was open, though, about the way his mother’s recent death inevitably affected many of the stories in the collection: “I wrote The Era of Not Quite at a time when I was confronting death and loss and grief for the first time—I mean in a big way, in my immediate family. So I didn’t have patience for the small stuff. You know: ‘Bill drank a glass of milk. It made him think of milk paint. He’d been wanting to change the color of his living-room walls, but the question was, Which color was the right one?’ What I would say to Bill is, Who cares? Don’t you know you’re going to die? Get outside and get some exercise or something.”
This urgency pervades all of the stories in The Era of Not Quite. Most are quite short, and if the main character isn’t dead by the end, it’s probably because they’re talking right at you (one of the best pieces in the collection, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation,” is a dramatic monologue delivered from a cynical teacher to her alternately inattentive and smart-alecky students). Some of the stories read like fables and accordingly cut right to the chase: “Long ago, when fate governed the lives of mortals, there was a lad whose lot in life was to love a girl whose lot in life was to be abducted by a fearsome dragon.” Note: if you’re a bit put off by characters named “lad,” “girl” or “boy,” don’t be. For here, appearing where it shouldn’t, is my thesis, in two parts: 1) you can’t forget that a character in a book by Douglas Watson is just a character in a book by Douglas Watson, and 2) you’ll care about that character anyway.
The best way to test this thesis is to read “Wolves,” previously published in The Journal Issue 35.1, a story that uses structural innovation for profound emotional impact. The story left me so stunned, I had to ask Watson about its genesis. He said, “I wrote ‘Wolves’ in the year after my mother died, so there’s a direct tie-in. But I just wrote the thing—for a workshop I was in, actually—and then other people pointed out that I was dealing in symbols. Rather heavy-handed ones at that. And I said, Huh, you’re right. But I’d had no idea. But I mean, there’s music, there’s a church, there’s a library. None of them provides any comfort or any answers. And then the wolves come at you. That’s what it’s like to lose your mother.”
At the same time, Watson emphasizes that the story isn’t autobiography: “The autobiographical stuff might partly explain how I came to write it, but the story is not a coded message whose true subject is me. A story can mean many things to many people, and that is one reason I prefer fiction to nonfiction. And books to life.”
Of course I’d be remiss not to remind you that there are twenty-two more stories like “Wolves” waiting for you—wolf-like—in Watson’s collection. For like his character Jacob Livesey, the experimental composer, Watson’s best stuff “evoke[s] the twin longings that t[ear], although not asunder, the inner lives of many of his contemporaries: the desire for repetition” (that’s “heart,” the stuff you nod over, weeping) “and the hunger for something—anything—new” (and that’s play).

Enjoy. - Elizabeth Zaleski

What’s the point of reading a book when, regardless of the book’s brilliance, you’ll still eventually end up dead? In his award-winning debut collection of twenty-three fabulist fictions, The Era of Not Quite, Douglas Watson takes up this question by knocking off characters left and right. In one story, Watson tosses a luckless schmuck into the void. In another, he flattens a thoughtful library patron with a dump truck while the patron’s daughter contemplates wonder. In the penultimate tale, a seven-year-old girl, poor dear, is bucked from a newly invented breed of miniature horse. Deaths stack up, morbidity becoming its own joke as nihilism loops back on itself again and again. The result is absurdity, hilarity, heady contemplation, and killer prose.
Of course, there’s nothing like a good literary offing to cleanse the palate, and this book offers deaths galore. But Watson’s stories run deeper than clever premises and guillotine giddiness. In this first book, winner of the BOA Short Fiction Prize, Watson adds his unique voice to postmodernism, joining the ranks of Barthelme, Beckett, and Calvino and holding his own. With playful experimentation and linguistic prowess, Watson mocks the conventions of fiction, making us wonder what stories really are for in this post-literate era when the masses can read but literacy fails to deliver us from unexceptional lives. Before you can lose hope, though, Watson shifts away from farce, showering us with moments of linguistic sublimity that remind us why fiction endures.
Watson drops us into folkloric lands of kings, wolves, and dragons as readily as he places us in nondescript contemporary landscapes of billboards, busses and, yes, libraries of all things. Then there are stories where Watson muddles time, inserting props from commercial culture into the sparse world of the fable. Take the story “When the World Broke,” where a golden-haired peasant boy living in a remote village on the edge of a forbidding forest fills a water bottle—ubiquitous thing—before slinging a bag of oats over his shoulder and venturing off through valleys lit by thousands of electric lights on a quest to save his beloved ailing mother and the world. It’s as though Watson is saying, hey, this is the realm of fiction, an artificial space, no? Fairy tale setting? Depressingly realist small town complete with Unitarian church? What’s the difference when neither really exists in a book?
Into these confused and anachronistic settings, Watson focuses his gaze on down-and-out characters, friendless, discouraged, but not without hope. Take Hal Walker from Watson’s title story “The Era of Not Quite”:
[…] It was a fine day on which to risk everything. / Everything, in Hal’s case, was not much. Although he had a bungalow and a great many books, Hal had no friends, family, lovers, admirers, or even detractors. Also, he no longer had the first half of his life. He did, though, have a job with the local telephone company, deleting from the telephone directory the names and phone numbers of people who had died. It was not a very demanding job (25).
Portrayed with charming deprecation, Watson’s characters are antiheroes for the new millennium, rivaling TV’s despondent office cubicle plebes for honors in futility. Watson’s characterization also has a touch of the metafictional in it. He makes us aware in every detail of the artifice of character construction. In stories such as “The Death of John O’Brien,” for example, Watson pokes fun at our contemporary lust for quirky characterization in describing the soon-to-be-dead library patron’s offspring:
[…] his eleven-year-old daughter, Hannah O’Brien, who could already say ‘shit’ in three languages, might one day appreciate the ironic humor that kept Independent People from being too impossibly bleak a novel. She might even appreciate it in its original Icelandic, for all John O’Brien knew (21).
Here, Watson includes us in the fun of conjuring up ridiculous people, the punch line being that these literary puppets are not so very different than those who populate our own reality, which might itself be a fiction, constructedness inescapable in a culture that layers text upon text.
Then there are stories like “Special Advertising Section,” where Watson throws metafictional subtlety out the window and ridicules the very endeavor in which he engages, the act of writing a book. Watson writes:
Well, here you are, halfway through Douglas Watson’s first and last book of stories, The Era of Not Quite. What do you think so far? Too many words? Too many deaths? Now might be a good time to take a break, maybe step out for a breath of air or head up to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes. Or perhaps you would prefer to press on, to get the book over with. Either way,  before you read any further, know this: the book you hold in your hands offers few of the pleasures of a novel […] (73).
Too gimmicky? It might be if what Watson did were simple. If all this story amounted to was the realization that the author is addressing the reader to pan his own book, then yes, this story would be droll. But here, Watson addresses the absurdity of what the entire literary world has become with a self-awareness that makes us laugh out loud. In a mere four pages, he mocks the celebration of the novel over the lowly story collection and the necessity of  superstar blurbers who serve as literary gods in an industry whose fans worship their heroes not for the sake of their souls or the goodness of mankind but so that they might join the ranks of the worshipped themselves.
Is Watson writing only to writers? He might say, yes, of course; that’s what our tiny insular literary ecosystem has become. And while this collection certainly is writerly, it isn’t only for the insider club of MFA alums. Anyone who loves language will devour this book because linguistically, Watson does things with a sentence that are so subtle and masterful, you find yourself startled by their effects. Take this first sentence from the title story:
The sun shone, if only to be polite, on a town whose residents were all indoors murdering, by one method or another, the hours of their too-short lives (25).
Here, Watson mixes world weariness with startlingly formal diction crossed with a jolt of something bright and intense. Watson performs these syntactical acrobatics again and again. It’s like Cirque de Soleil for book nerds. Just look how those sentences bend.
Here’s one more. The opening of “Against Specificity” goes like this:
The trouble: You want Thing A but are stuck with Thing B.
Shit, you say, turning Thing B around in your hands. Look at this thing, you say. It’s as dull as a bucket of dirt. It’s not half as interesting as a sculpture of a dog pissing on a dead man’s shoe in the rain, and you don’t have one of those. You don’t have Thing A, either.
Hell, you haven’t even seen Thing A. You’ve only heard about it from your neighbor, who works down at the Thing Exchange. What he or she said: Thing A shines like a gold tooth in the mouth of Jesus. Thing A is rounder, fuller, faster, zestier than Thing B. Thing A is perfect—it’s what you need. Why, it even smells good, like waffles (9).
Of course, this tale of materialistic desire is a commentary on capitalist consumption, but such a summation completely misses the fun of the ridiculous similes, meta-absurdity, and wryness of the voice. Watson’s work flips easy summations on their heads. Go deep, dear critic. This textual thing that Watson’s concocted has layers you could unpack until the cows hang up their udders and stumble home.
And when the cows are tucked away and you’ve fully mulled over Watson’s first book, don’t fret. You won’t be lonesome long. This Watson fellow’s on a roll. In April, he releases a novel from Outpost 19. And the title? Wait for it, folks—A Moody Fellow Finds Love and Then Dies. We’re surely in store for more postmodernist hullabaloo.
We don’t often hand out trophies for metafiction and humor, but shine your brassware, world. This debutante’s got stuff to say and the way he says it sparkles so loud you’ll erect a trophy soon for Douglas Watson-ness: the not-quite-cracked-or-lucid-rendering of life-ishness-in-fabulist-fashion Award.- Tessa Mellas

Summary: Douglas Watson's debut story collection is chock-a-block with deaths, births, sea and land voyages, excursions to the library, philosophical asides, and things like wolves. People fall in and out of love, walk in and out of buildings, take two steps forward and two steps back. Futility is a theme of the book, but so is the necessity of trying. -- BOA Editions

I should probably preface my review of THE ERA OF NOT QUITE by Douglas Watson by telling you that I "know" the author. He is a close friend of my brother-in-law's and I've met him a few times over the years, but I really wouldn't call him a friend -- more of an acquaintance. At a party a little over a year ago, he told me that his first book was being published, and (the book geek that I am) I mentioned that I'd love to read it.
A few months ago, Doug emailed me asking if I'd take a look at his book THE ERA OF NOT QUITE. He described it as "vaguely absurdist, death-haunted short stories." Of course, I jumped at the chance but I admit that I was a little concerned that this book was outside of my normal reading fare. I remember him telling me that this book isn't for everyone, and I was under no commitment to read it, review it, or even like it!
So it was with a little excitement and a little trepidation that I picked up THE ERA OF NOT QUITE. THE ERA OF NOT QUITE is a collection of truly original short stories that deal with a little bit of everything -- life, death, and love. But it's also about the living -- both the ups and the downs, the good and the bad. I realize this description sounds pretty vague, but it is difficult to summarize this book in just a few sentences. I will just say that this small book covers a lot... and packs a powerful punch.
THE ERA OF NOT QUITE also has some unique characters who experience some extremely unique situations. I'm not going to lie to you -- this book is a little bit weird! It is unlike any collection of short stories (or books for that matter) that I've ever read. But I absolutely adored THE ERA OF NOT QUITE -- and it has absolutely nothing to do with "knowing" the author. These stories were entertaining and often times surprising, and I actually found that I couldn't put the book down because I couldn't wait to see what was around the next corner.
Naturally, there were stories that I enjoyed more than others, but I can honestly say that there wasn't a dinger in the bunch. Even those stories that didn't exactly resonate with me provided me with a great deal of enjoyment. I found myself laughing constantly at the absurdity of the characters and their actions, but I also found myself blown away by just how smart this book is. I promise you that each story will at the very least surprise you and cause you to think. And I always say that if a book can make you think, then it's a winner. (I think Oprah says something similar but her words hold much more power than mine!)
There is no doubt that Doug Watson has some mad writing skills. THE ERA OF NOT QUITE has already won the BOA Short Fiction Prize and a few of the stories have appeared in Tin House (online), Sou'Wester, and Fifty-Two Stories. But he also has a slightly twisted mind and that's evident in the originality and brilliance of these stories. In fact, THE ERA OF NOT QUITE is so smart and witty that I actually scratched my head that one individual could create them.
However, I think what impressed me the most about this book is just how "different" each story felt. Of course, there are recurring themes throughout many of the stories gave the book a feeling of continuity, but each story almost seemed as if it could have been written by a different writer. Some were almost like fables, while others were dark and depressing, and others were almost whimsical. THE ERA OF NOT QUITE is truly a special and extremely well written book!
If you are looking for something a little different than what you ordinarily read, that's smart and funny and insightful, then I highly recommend reading THE ERA OF NOT QUITE. www.bookingmama.net


Kim Rosenfield - Using words and phrases culled from linguistics textbooks and language-learning manuals, Rosenfield invites the reader to experience everyday vernacular as dislocated affect. What happens when language acts as organ donor?

Kim Rosenfield, Lividity, Les Figues Press, 2012.


In Lividity, poet Kim Rosenfield works within the outskirts of language, draining it of connotation and excess. Using words and phrases culled from linguistics textbooks and language-learning manuals, Rosenfield invites the reader to experience everyday vernacular as dislocated affect. What happens when language acts as organ donor? When language, the conveyor of our vulnerability, is transposed into new and often failing terrain? Are expressions of meaning vital enough to keep the organism functioning? What happens when meaning loses its moorings?
Lividity compels the reader to navigate through language that sinks, coagulates, empties out, and becomes a forensic tool to determine linguistic/poetic cues of movement within or towards a concept of meaning making. Rosenfield’s poetry unsettles and disorients, but ultimately examines. It is an analysis, a scientific picking apart of communication and the limits of self expression.
Lividity is mind and body enmeshed in its own traces.
Lividity is published as part of the TrenchArt: Surplus Series, with an introduction by Trisha Low and visual art by Klaus Killisch. It is Kim Rosenfield’s second book to be published by Les Figues, along with re: evolution.

“Language in Lividity pools in interstitial spaces of not-not-myself. Faced with the extreme everyday, with already-emitted notes we yet melancholically cling to, Rosenfield ignites the awareness that we can never be seamlessly located in our own shell casings, fleshy or otherwise. If, as Robert Creeley so famously asserted, “speech is a mouth,” here its lips are boiled red.”— from the introduction by Trisha Low

“With Lividity, Kim Rosenfield taps glacial glossa to palatial palate, as ‘this endpoint of language comes very close to touching the hard palace.’ Penetratingly wry, sensual, and self-reflexive, it entrains the mind with a sculpted spatiality that re-construes and hallucinates all manners of articulation and interlocution. ‘They have made it with a richness and expression that we must pay homage to like we pay homage to the indispensible devotion attached to our laboratory of creation…’
One other thing. I think it rips through your clothes when it takes you over. Windows found some shredded long johns, but the name tag was missing. They could be anybody’s. Nobody…”— Lanny Jordan Jackson

In the Victorian fashion of a high school second language class, anyone who reads Lividity is interpellated by its disciplining clarity—one becomes complicit in its reformative action upon one’s own subjectivity. In reading Rosenfield’s poem, like an act of recital, one puts one’s own brain and mouth through a re-performance of the lesson—as a repressive self-disciplining intended to level out language into some kind of proper English in the (dis)guise of colloquial conversation. The relations between poet, book, and reader become a network of simultaneous and unequal colonizations.— Nick Thurston

Nick Thurston on how Kim Rosenfield’s Lividity and Steven Zultanski’s Agony both convert the long form poem into an act of hyper-objectification, and how both do so to brutally contemporary effect:
In an age of acceleration and over-production, wherein the very ontology of published language has been transformed by its reformation through and as principally-digital data, the most intelligent and imaginative poetic responses seem to have come from the field of so-called Conceptual writing. Basically this is because conceptualist approaches to cultural production demand that “makers” consider what they make in the context of their field or community at the level of social epistemology as well as that of the projective imaginary. That is, the maker-subject recognizes herself as just one producer within a specific community and history of possibilities that are united by some shared concerns (technical, political, economic, geographic, sexual, whatever), and which are in turn embedded in other communities and histories of production. Those maker-subjects re-imagine those shared concerns by holding them together, often in dispute, which means that they don’t have to agree on what those concerns “mean,” but that they do privilege them as a/the problematic(s) for their community of production. The job, then, is to develop that shared problematic(s).
Conceptual writers are writing beyond other communities of literary practice because they’ve taken the risk of advancing the problematic(s) of poetry, whereas other communities of poetic practice (at least the ones who are producing textual fields that we would currently recognize as “poetry”) are failing to even at least sufficiently develop the problematic(s) of poetry in our age. At present, the conceptualist approach to writing (which is something that expands before and beyond so-called Conceptual writing) seems to be exploring what it means for poetic writing to be “contemporary” in the most interesting way right now. And the contemporaneity at stake in this contemporary moment seems to be being shaped by the unprecedented tension between a pair of facts that are perfectly articulated in Kim Rosenfield’s doublet “THE BRUTE MATERIAL OF WORDS. THE BRUTAL MATERIAL OF WORLDS.” (Lividity, p. 165), partly because of what it says and partly because she makes no claim to having said it first.
Rosenfield’s doublet is just one brutally eloquent moment within her sixth book of poetry, Lividity (Los Angeles: Les Figues Press, 2012). The slim volume format that frames Les Figues’s TrenchArt series is engaged, typographically, by Rosenfield’s composition, which literally descends through and down the book. It starts with a sequence of short corrective aphorisms, each set to the top baseline, one-per page, that begin, “The naturalization of vowels and syllables are atoning for an encore” (Lividity, p. 21). Its second section drops eleven lines down the page and explains, in textbook prose, how said corrections can be implemented through five phases of workshop learning. The remaining 120 pages of the poem do exactly that, implementing the corrections, enacted through the re-enactment of “micro-conversations” (Lividity, p. 45), figured as a five-part assemblage: a systematic explanation of the structuring of speech; a repetitious vocabulary list that enfolds consonance and assonance into an elocution exercise; a stuttering transcription of one or several sample interlocution(s); a “giving to the republic” (Lividity, p. 163) of what has been learned, converted or put to use in an all-too everyday Anglo-Saxon language act (i.e., a shopping list); and closing with a lesson plan or presentation about the relationalities that might now be established or re-negotiated by the newly conversant, proper speaker within a community of like-speakers. The inherent aggressiveness in the very concept of “implementation,” as something taught-learnt and insisted-internalized, is the central tension throughout Rosenfield’s poem. In creating that tension she presents proper-ness as the root conviction of colonial literary development:
Each of our 25 micro-conversations will become easier to put in place while forming a chronological suite that is solidly enchained. Each one constitutes a step closer to a sojourn in an Anglo-Saxon country. (Lividity, p. 164)
The whole poem is typeset in the blandly informatic Futura font on chemically sterile white paper. Its dual movement through and down the book is supposed, paradoxically, to lead us through a progression, a linear learning experience. In the Victorian fashion of a high school second language class, anyone who reads Lividity is interpellated by its disciplining clarity—one becomes complicit in its reformative action upon one’s own subjectivity. In reading Rosenfield’s poem, like an act of recital, one puts one’s own brain and mouth through a re-performance of the lesson—as a repressive self-disciplining intended to level out language into some kind of proper English in the (dis)guise of colloquial conversation. The relations between poet, book, and reader become a network of simultaneous and unequal colonizations. All three parties are changed conceptually by this inter-relation (the book in this case being the site or length of the long form poem) and yet remain lumpenly, corporeally, morphologically, the same; reminding us that conceptualist work produces, first and foremost, conceptual affect.
In this sense, the book functions like the livid corpse of one processual, accumulative language act; an act that was an act of capture registered on a restless palimpsest; a palimpsest understood as a material matrix that is somehow restlessly corporeal and somehow confused by its own restlessness. Here the long form disjunctive poem, as a book format and as a genre of poetry, has been put on the slab, still alive but strapped into a stasis, like the Condemned in Kafka’s “Penal Colony,” as a site for a polyvocal inscription, but one that willfully collapses or augments its different stances, tones and voices as if the poet wants to witness their collapse into endless encores. As Tricia Low alludes in the title of her short preface, Rosenfield’s book is a kind of autopsy. And whereas the poet’s will-to-collapse, to enfold voices, to same the different, will still be seen by some as an aggressive perversion against subjective difference, I would argue that it is exactly this calculated objectification that marks the book as so seductively and brutally contemporary.
From its opening aphorisms the rhythm of Lividity works on a principle of “Constant Sufficiency” (Lividity, p. 171). The constancy that it benchmarks couples a clinical tone with a covetous kind of bodily-ness: it is constantly about the physicality of “saying the right thing” in speech or in writing about speech. Although long, the poem is sparse and intense, precise and concise. In a different but equally considered way, Steven Zultanski’s third book of poetry, Agony (Toronto: Book Thug, 2012), also uses a conceptual license to hyper-exaggerate objectifying affects. Structured into two untitled parent sections, Agony refines a method that Zultanski played with in his first book, Pad (Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2010). It involves making comparative measurements to taxonomise something(s) that are overly close to the poet, in body or mind. Riffing on Daniel Spoerri’s Annecdoted Topography of Chance (1962), in Pad Zultanski listed everything in his apartment according to whether or not he could lift it with his dick, and this quasi-autistic impersonalizing of the personal (his organ and his place) made absurd the masculinist formal showmanship all-too common to the avant-garde tradition that Conceptual poetry has inherited.
In Pad everything is measured one-way, against/by his dick. His dick is, if you like, the fixed, and his relationships are the variable. In Agony, the benchmark or units of measurement change figuratively for each section—different things, or at least different aspects of one thing (the poet’s body), are compared against different things in “Lives,” “Mouths,” “Hours,” etc. What is more, within each section, the “measure” and the “measured” establish a disfiguring, mutually affecting relationship, rather than a one-directional “holding up to / with.” This comparative method is transposed from statistical analysis and Zultanski uses it to make improbable comparisons between really different materials in the world. By hyper-extending the quantifiability of the fixed he manages to unfixes it, in turn unfixing the understanding(s) that he had pegged to it—of other things and of the method itself—as a kind of bizarrely logical negation. As a consequence, Agony performs a relentlessly intelligent deformation, through over-exaggeration, of the genre of confessional poetry, reaching an apotheosis in the second section of “Self Portraits”:
If all of the strawberries in the world made up only 100 strawberries, then each of those strawberries would weigh 44,092.452 U.S. tons.

Given that the total world production of strawberries for one year is around 4,409,245.243 U.S. tons.

And that the average weight of a single strawberry is 2.59×10.5 U.S. tons.

So each of the 100 big strawberries would be equivalent of 1.70×1011 average strawberries.

Given that the average volume of a strawberry is .75 cubic inches, we can assume that the average volume of a big strawberry is 1.1275×1011 cubic inches; very big.

My very biggest personal fear is of dying of cancer.

The invisibility of metastasis leads me to believe that the process must have already been underway for some time now, for who can say how long.

For cancer cells can break away, leak, or spill from a primary tumor.

Just as juice can break away, leak, or spill from a big strawberry, as it becomes squeezed or rotten.

If one wanted to squeeze a big strawberry between two fingers, say the index finger and the thumb, which are good fingers for squeezing, one would need fingers that were, say, 6.375×109 times bigger than they are now, if one were using my own hand as an example of the average width potentially spanned by the thumb and index finger.

It’s possible, if I were to have a cancer of the thumb and index finger, that my fingers would grow so big, though in all probability I would die before reaching such an ambitious goal.

Given the way I feel about cancer, that its invisibility is a sign of its presence and malignancy somewhere in my body, let’s assume that I already have cancer of the thumb and index finger. And that it’s spreading outwards, stretching my fingers toward their eventual monstrous proportions.

And by proximity and necessity, my hand is growing bigger too.

I can’t see it, so I know it’s there. My big hand, that is.

                    (Agony, pp. 121-3)
More often than not it is explicitly the poet’s own body or self-perception that is measured, quantified, and disfigured in drawn out informal paragraphs. And those paragraphs are topped and tailed by remorselessly short, single, framing, spoken statements:
Let me see.

Given that the average female breast protrudes about two inches from the chest, we can assume that the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, is 16,104 breasts tall.

Taipei 101 is 10,026 breasts tall.

The Shanghai World Financial Center is 9,684 breasts tall.

The International Commerce Centre is 9,528 breasts tall.

If the Petronas Towers were stacked, one on top the other, they would be 17,796 breasts tall.

So. Let me see now.

We would know the exact height of the five tallest buildings in the world, measured in breasts, and, additionally, the exact height of the tallest twin buildings in the world, if they were stacked, measured in breasts.

The average single-family two-storey house in the U.S. is 144 breasts tall.

The avergae U.S. man is 34.95 breasts tall.

The average U.S. woman is 32.15 breasts tall.

Given that the average height of one story of a house is 48 breasts, we can assume that when the average U.S. man stands in an average U.S. room, there are 13.05 breasts between him and the second story, if there is one, and that when the average U.S. woman stands in an average U.S. room, there are 15.85 breasts between her and the second story, if there is one.


                    (Agony, pp. 43-4)
I have no idea if the calculations are correct, which is in part the point; but they quickly become mazy and unfathomable, which I also suspect is part of the point. The inadequacy of all of this averaging starts off a glitch or oscillation between the categories of fixed and variable, which unfolds much like a Google Map over-processing too much detail. The narrator’s hyper-clarity becomes unwieldy, “his” syntax clunky and calculations impossible to follow, like a Google Image search that condenses representations of the actually real within the space-time of the virtually real. Like Rosenfield, and like Samuel Beckett at his best-worst, reading Zultanski’s poem out loud makes your jaw ache and your brain strain. In the case of all three poets and both modes of reading their work, this production of strain is perfectly measured and relieved just before the breaking point:
Look at me.

My right hand index finger is 3.4 inches long, whether pointing at myself or not.

If I sliced two inches from it, it would be 1.4 inches long.

I could still point at myself or anything else. For example, this flowerless vase, with a circumference of 15 inches, at widest, which I used to be able to more or less comfortably grip, but which now if I’ve sliced two inches from all of my fingers slides right out of my hands.

Given that the two-inch slice would cut directly into the knuckle of my index finger, I could then fit the leftover stub into the vase, until my half a knuckle’s stopped up by the lip, as a cork is stopped up by a bottle.

This stopping is due to the knuckle’s width, and not to the fatness of the finger. Thus the further slicing of my fingers would free up their essential thinness, and allow for a greater versatility with regards to fitting into holes.

The pinky finger of my right hand is now .8 inches long.

The ring finger of my right hand is now 1.4 inches long.

The middle finger of my right hand is now 1.75 inches long.

The thumb of my right hand is now .45 inches long.

So if I sliced two more inches from my fingers, I’d end up cutting jaggedly into my palm, which would thus retain the same asymmetry that my hand already retains with all its fingers in full.

But my arm, if measured from shoulder to scar, would only stretch for 23.75 inches.

With no chance of holding this vase, in any usual sense of holding.

                    (Agony, pp. 91-2)
Even knowing that Agony is only the first in a planned trilogy makes feel a stressful kind of excitement. The sheer scale of Zultanski’s project and the force of intention needed to actually realize it are part of the performance. The weight of conviction and the kind of labor necessary to construct something like this trilogy both put pressure on the way that we think about the doing of doing poetry. These poems are totally controlled and totally controlling—wholly unapologetic and brutally seductive—obsessive and yet disinterested.
It is on these levels, of control and performativity, that Lividity and Agony problematize the project of conceptualist poetry in a newly demanding way. Both books tell you what they are going to do and then do it, but do so through demonstration rather than explanation: They enact what they are, hence their all-too present thing-ness and their self-reflexive performing-of-the-book (understood as a site and context for knowledge production and literary reproduction). Both books also speak at the reader not with the reader—they don’t invite a conversation, in any sense—and they both refuse the reader any illusion of ambiguity. One might misunderstand or just not understand either poem, but not because they’re unclear. Both use prosaic and instructional modes to be brutally clear and materialistic, even corporeal and invasive, via a narrated, quasi-objective stance—talking to the outside about the inside of the body, its constitutive spaces and functions—prodding, poking and explaining from the outside-in—talking to themselves in the mirror yet consciously demanding all of our attention from the sterilizing distance of printed type on a mass-reproduced page. The brutal curiousness of both Lividity and Agony is brain tingling.
What both poets construct are intensities and densities of spoken language and/or language about speech. Yet their constructions form a literary texture that is not verbal nor simply written nor even the familiarly poetic. Rather, they imagine the crisis of speaking, of being a body that speaks; and they both project that imagination in styles of textual acuteness that could only ever be written—that are linguistic beyond speech. They at once obsess over and deny speaking—they write the unspeakable, and in doing so differently re-imagine what it means to speak about the self. - Nick Thurston bombsite.com/

Kim Rosenfield, USO: I'll Be Seeing You, Ugly Duckling Presse, 2013.

USO: I'LL BE SEEING YOU is at its core a parable of performance and service. How does one perform/serve issues of identity, race, politics, and the essential vulnerability of what it means to be human? What is language in service of and when does it go too far? What degrades? What supports? What is heroic? What does it mean to put oneself at risk or in harm's way? This book speaks via the poetry of stand-up comedy to the U.S. involvement in the Middle East and the difficulties of naming the unnameable.
This book treats themes of race, politics, religion, gender, power, sexuality, and trauma within appropriated, amalgamated frames of stand-up comedy and comedians entertaining the military via USO performances in war zones. As Freud theorized, humor, like dreams, carries unconscious content that makes the unspeakable explicit. The idea of this book is to investigate undigested collective cultural taboos that have historically only been able to be metabolized through vehicles of popular culture, especially comedy. Ideas of personhood and sense of self within the abovementioned themes is challenged through multiply subjective iterations, non-narrative structure, and appropriated language systems.

Reading this text is a full body experience. Breath and heartbeat shift, speed up and slow down. Kim Rosenfield sets this text somewhere between prayer and vaudeville shtick. A reader cycles through laughter and something like incantation. Between. Perhaps that’s the point. Limenal. Written to be read at the busy intersect of overlapping Venn diagrams, pulled many ways. A workout. —Adrienne Harris

USO: I’ll Be Seeing You situates poet Kim Rosenfield’s fascinating ongoing performance of language’s late capital war on itself in the troop-entertainment industry. What better place? If in her last brilliant collection, Lividity, words from everywhere issue forth from a single loose fleshy mouth, in USO language laughs in long skinny lines like tears down the snout. It’s a “comic” performance of “nothing [i.e. memory-avoidance]” for mutilators or the soon-to-be mutilated that suggests no trace of thought is allowed to rise above the stench of disintegrating flesh in the war zone. Rosenfield’s riveting acting out of “finding the funny” once tragedy’s certain/volume/of/time/contingency/passes can be taken as a trope for a major issue facing the culture in our time. —Gail Scott

Just when you thought no book or nonprofit organization could ever attain greater heights of hoakiness, USO bursts into true reveries of lyric transcendence—offering a devastating critique of American imperialism at its most off-color. This may be the most important exposé of the off-duty American military since All In: The Education of David Petraeus. This is a pageturner—and a major contribution to conceptual writing in the twenty-first century. "for most/ tours/ we fly/ the categorical/ leg/ of the outing/ blurb/ thereafter/ it’s time/ to/ “soldier/ up”/ on the single/ trip/ the blurb/ moody/ had/ problems/ as good as/ we got" Need I say more? —Paul Stephens, co-editor, Convolution: Journal for Critical Experiment

Kim Rosenfield, Tràma, Krupskaya, 2004.

Kim Rosenfield's TRAMA is her first book since the award-winning GOOD MORNING--MIDNIGHT--of 2001. TRAMA is both a festive and a frightening book--Rosenfield has the quiet tones of Gepetto's workshop, the mummery of harlequinade, and the terror of the giant swallowing fish. "TRAMA," she says, "embodies a child's tale but redesigns it to pit the mistranslated circus of personal ambition against public episodes of wronged military might." "Kim Rosenfield narrates the trajectory of 'an unluxurious piece of wood' in a unique language whose inflections have an exhilarating effect. Her TRAMA is a dance of the elements charged with a keen sense of the absurd" - Rodrigo Rey Rosa

Put this on the shelf (oh but please take it off again) next to Ashbery’s Girls on The Run, the book-length proses of Carla Harryman and Stacy Doris, and your DVDs of Guy Maddin, L’Atalante and Wladyslaw Starewicz’s The Mascot—fairy tales creepier to adults who know a thing or two about “ammonia and advice,” and perhaps less about keeping balance in a world of eternal, Buffy-style recurrence. Rosenfield’s part collage, part suede and suave therapeutic technique creates a “voice” that wavers, furtive yet spikily resonant in the amplified tick of the second hand, as the carnal “self” is further contaminated by the freezer-burn of a world run by patents, portents, and hawkish impatience, yet begs to extend its lease with the mirror stage. Read this book for its honey and ash, and sleep easier. — Brian Kim Stefans

This deceitfully comedic tale is one of terroristic proportions, like a Cocteau film sent through the tortuous digestives of a black widow's belly… “Was it borne of someone?” While the “poor little guys” and “little dear ones” act steadily to sublimate the violently enchanting surroundings, the scene somehow becomes all the more de-sublimated. How does this happen? What a predicament! Kim Rosenfield’s narrative circuits take us on a romp through the psychic forms of our “civilian” lives. “Dear men, my lines.” Dear reader, step lively!— Laura Elrick

Verbal exploits mimic narrative ones in this nuclear-age version of Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio. Rosenfield's previous book, Good Morning—Midnight, winner of Small Press Traffic's 2001 Poetry Book of the Year Award, offered a multi-faceted examination of feminism in a media-driven world. Here, she draws us deftly into the fairy-tale's primeval darkness to reveal the glow-in-the-dark fears and dangers of a world at war. The New York-based Rosenfield lived a number of years in Florence; the title is Italian for weave, conspiracy, and plot. A patchwork of voices, by turns philosophical, psychoanalytical, lyrical, and technical, urge, scold, and pester one another: "no guys, you are wrong and have to be sublimated," says one. Forest, village, marmalade, rich cream, and pieces of gold mingle with gasoline, Plexiglas, and bodegas—and with famine, welfare and unemployment. In the book's longer second section, the pseudo-narrative bursts its britches with chaos and violence. Characters named MOAB ("Mother of all bombs" in weapons parlance), Fatwah, Rambo, Dr. Nitrate, and Ms. Missile menace our hero, "Poor Little One," as makes his way through an apocalyptic History City, eventually to be tortured by the sinister Leader of the Camps ("On this night, said the Leader, you will really learn to cry"). These encounters make for a terrific careen through "the heart of the furor that produces such insurgence." - Publishers Weekly

Kim Rosenfield, Good Morning—Midnight—,Roof Books, 2001.

"For those trying to understand the relation between innovative writing and feminism, Kim Rosenfield.is required reading"-Juliana Spahr. By sampling and blending the languages of science, money, beauty, and fashion, Rosenfield presents a critique of how these languages define and limit women. "Kim Rosenfield's long-awaited Good Morning-Midnight- is a rollicking expose of twenty-first century custom, superstition, procedure.An olfactory must for all time capsules and poetry shoppers alike"- Stacy Davis. "A Japanese-made little flight-attendant-esque scarflette// I don't have much of a waist/ This will give me a waist.// Prada citizen!/ Vote the party line/ The Slim Skirt party.// This isn't brain surgery/ it's a skirt" (from "Wisdom Frost").

“New York poet Kim Rosenfield finds the pivot where body image, conspicuous consumption, self-esteem, and ‘dome parties at Vassar’ form a crushing day-for-night in Good Morning—Midnight—. With withering linguistic looks and razor-sharp wit, Rosenfield deconstructs the sets of beliefs that hold media-created women together.” ...From the "Cool Clean Chemistry" of "Maximum Sapiens" to "The Acquiring of Frisky" and "Eurowarm" ("I am woman I am not demented"), New York poet Kim Rosenfield finds the pivot where body image, conspicuous consumption, self-esteem and "dome parties at Vassar" form a crushing day-for-night in Good Morning Midnight . With withering linguistic looks and razor-sharp wit, Rosenfield deconstructs the sets of beliefs that hold media-created woman together, "Novel hormonal status, household of spells MGM spectacular You know, something to do with her own life." The book's four serial works produce their own spectacular brand of "SHA-din-froy-dah," by which "Fashionation" victims might recognize themselves and "Jump! It's Argyle Day!"— Publishers Weekly

Kim Rosenfield, re: evolution, Les Figues Press, 2009.

Delving into the fissures of language as an opportunity to create something new, Rosenfield appropriates texts from various fields of knowledge (evolutionary theory, psychoanalysis, advice on the science of living, and feminist theory) to rewire ideas of authority, subjectivity, and expert opinion. The resulting re: evolution is part text-book, part poem, part song-of-science, part feminist guide-to-living. Presented alongside research and analysis from a literary critic (Sianne Ngai), a poet/academic (Diana Hamilton) and an evolutionary biologist (Jennifer Calkins), and coupled with images by poet/artist Yedda Morrison, re: evolution begs the question: what moves around what?

“[…] Viewing the instability of language as an aesthetic opportunity, Rosenfield fuses appropriated texts from different genres (including evolutionary theory, psychoanalysis, and feminist theory)to create a radically disorienting textual topography.”

“Rosenfield has created a poetics of anti-fetishism that is, remarkably, just as pleasurable, funny, and creepy as the kind of fixation of obsession it critiques […] No small or hairless feat, this is the same queer anti-fetishism which we see in the writing of poets like Mina Loy and Stacy Doris.”– Sianne Ngai

“re: evolution takes evolutionary theory and reconstitutes it, reinterprets it, illuminates, deconstructs and critiques it. re: evolution transfers the theory of evolution into historical context and breaks it open.”
Jennifer Calkins

Kim Rosenfield, A Self-Guided Walk, City on a Hill , 1996.

Kim Rosenfield, Some of Us, Quija Madness Press, 1982.

Recently in Berlin, Kim Rosenfield the conceptual poet presented a paper on “poetics in the invitational mood.” ☼ This invitational mood as described by Kim Rosenfield the occasional essayist involves multiple subjectivities, multiple objectivities, multiple temporalities, and many Kim Rosenfields—including “Kim Rosenfield the arena” and “Kim Rosenfield the perfect hostess.” The invitational mood as enacted by Kim Rosenfield the clinical psychotherapist is the understanding that Kim Rosenfield the conscious subject is, like all sentient subjects, an objective set, and the set of Kim Rosenfield is an incomplete set insofar as it does not include not Kim Rosenfield, and the set of Kim Rosenfield is an unsettled set insofar as it alludes to Kim Rosenfield the audition. ♫
For, according to Kim Rosenfield the oral history, the invitational mood invokes “try-on” language. “Try-on” language is language that “unthinks” its otherwise static associations and syntax. “Try-on language is like the best adolescent, or Jackie O., the fashion icon, able to occupy multiple mes in a life that is au courant and à la mode. According to Kim Rosenfield the building inspector and Kim Rosenfield the fun-at-parties, every now includes a then, and every then is replete with the to-become. If Kim Rosenfield the as-if knows anything, it’s that I = me + them sure as this way = that way = this way + that way.♫ And thus, Kim Rosenfield the prime number makes poetry that is an ode to telemachus, to the transmigration of souls, not in the dubiously optimistic here-to-come but in the more cobbled here&now, for Kim Rosenfield the imparfait is present-tensed and stuffed with plums of sadness and great glee, scientific disambiguation and corporate pep-talks, common sense from common people and shoes that shine gold and silver and never say Stop!♣
True to her absolute rejection of absolute truth, Kim Rosenfield the definite article allows for a field of definite articles: “the” is always many: there are only local truths. Kim Rosenfield the store locator also knows, just as Kim Rosenfield the tear-stained-face suspects, that each definite article is in this way an article of real faith, to be had, even temporarily, at the price of some other mark of oneself, equally personal, equally precious, equally degraded, denuded and netted in the same thin web. Giorgio Agamben writes about “life’s subjection to a power over death and life’s power over death and life’s irreparable exposure in the relation of abandonment.” The terribly tensile “thes” of Kim Rosenfield the vice principal constitute the awful ongoingness of us, that part where abandonment meets resistance meets a well-turned ankle and a hole in the Wall. Alain Badiou observes that the state is founded, not as a social tie, but as an untying that binds: the ability to exclude from the state is what constitutes the state. Kim Rosenfield the tool box praises the pathos of the personal liaison and the historical enchaînement, poetic practices that are feminist politics to the felt beat of the tambourine, O yeah.♫ Because Kim Rosenfield the you-can-jive has abandoned the divide between inside and outside, that false comfort which is so comfortable for poetics of the ironic gestural and personal polemic varieties.{∞}
Meanwhile, Kim Rosenfield the true story is to Vanessa Place the jurisdiction as Kim Rosenfield the loss is to not Vanessa Place the sentence whereas Kim Rosenfield the whatever is Vanessa Place is the Kim Rosenfield. And we are all of us the better for it.☺


[My Feminism is Near (Yay!)
(Based on the Transition Revolution Franchise Model)]

Feminism in my work is about building resiliency. Feminism, I say, depends on working together, not building bunkers. Feminism is about reducing the impact of what comes out of the tailpipe of society, putting new systems in place to help it withstand the shocks that come so we can plot a path of elation rather than of guilt, anger, and horror. My feminism is a kind of coming-out party meant to engage the public in my work. It’s like any other civic organization. My feminism can harness the “power of human energy,” and address the world’s gloomiest challenges without shoving them into denial or depression. My feminism is located in the Panida Theater, a classy old movie house in Sandpoint, Idaho. “Sandpoint, are you ready?” My feminism is deeper—more radical—than mere greenness or sustainability. My feminism gains heat from my neighbors and they from it. It isn’t a very romantic notion and maybe achieving status so easily is a sign that its not really talking the level of paradigm-busting work needed to be awakened in us. Maybe it will turn out to be regrettable, but maybe it could be unusually constructive. My feminism already lives a scaled-down life. It is quite tall, with a ponytail and moustache. It’s already bartered, shared, and canned together. Tradesmen, workshops, cultural institutions, and farmland surround my feminism. I make my feminism as self-sufficient as possible. For a generation, feminists have told us to change our lifestyles to avoid catastrophic consequences. My feminism tells us those consequences are now. My feminism can be a bridge to carry us over the terrible time ahead and into a world we long for. It is a force somehow outside us. My feminism emphasizes hopefulness over fear & focus over messiness. I like having a dishwasher. My feminism might topple governments, alter national boundaries, incite wars, and challenge the continuation of civilized life. Feminism is inevitable. But this is a feminism that could be fantastic. My feminism came to me in a dream in which there’s no problems, there’s only solutions. My feminism is starting to career down the other side of the hill, which hill, specifically, is up to you. But it’s the shadowy side, and none of us can see the bottom. My feminism is the mottled product of a century of migration. My feminism is going to journey into 2030 and see what’s there for us. My feminism is trying to look on the bright side of an America with less. My feminism is a good tool for the job. I can pick it up by whatever handle I grasp. I can swing it as earnestly as I can.

Eight discourses with Kim Rosenfield

Kim Rosenfield.

Discourse 1.
Divya Victor: As the epidermis opens a body, the epigraph opens a book. Your choice of epigraph to the first section of Tràma takes from Natalia Ginzburg’s The Little Virtues. Ginzburg is an expert taxonomist of the domestic remnants, the civil debris, the uncivil de-ballasting of National reconstructions, and an archivist of the things that remained buried after “we” rummaged through the debris of wars, of traumas, of losses great and small. In this, she is also like a gravedigger and her work is never done. Your Tràma, like her work, often excavates, devours, and inverts that pleasing Anglican claim “All things bright and beautiful, / All creatures great and small, / All things wise and wonderful, / The Lord God made them all.” In Tràma, the treatment of cultural memory, fable, mythology, and childhood appear equally invested in cures as in casuistry, in curation as in curiosity, in dreams as in demonology — the latter in the sense of Frankenstein warning Walton that what is created will become a myth, and thus more dangerous than the act of creation itself. What the Lord God made includes these things in the argument moving through your book.
The movements of Tràma’s body musculate, like all good physical activity, provoking the sphincters that emit and excrete — generating waste and wonder in the same convulsion by digesting and rehearsing the texts that are passed down from mouth-to-mouth to record the trans-historic journeys of “Poor Little One,” the “guys,” the various scoundrels, orphans, assassins, the “Beautiful Child with Turpentine Hair,” unnamed Little Match Girls and boys of fairytaledom, and the texts that are buried in the earth to form “History City.”
I read an archive of small things treated as if by a lepidopterist: spread, pinned, boxed, and gazed at — except the lepidopterist is also a mighty historian and an amateur storyteller with a terrible memory. The narrative Father, cultural memory, the “proper place,” are usurped repeatedly by an angry mob or miffed Möbius that twists and continues the tales. Even as the epithets march forward briskly (“Some people bust with violence because they are sensitive to rumor and take big breaths to fan themselves against persecution”), they are immediately assaulted by their own skidding on the banana-peel-syntax and prosody of these prose pieces.
Could you say more on the musculature of the book? What went in, what came out, and to what processes of appropriation and excavation did you devote your writerly lepidopterology? What of the species interests you?
Kim Rosenfield: First of all, Divya, I want to thank you and Jacket2 for giving me this opportunity to delve with you so deeply into my own work.
The musculature of Tràma was based on Winnicott’s idea of “the mysterious middle” in which the infant takes in nourishment, excretes it, but there’s this magical strange thing that happens inside the infant’s digestive tract that is like pulling a rabbit out of a hat — I guess one covered in shit! Tràma’s exists in an infant-like state in which there are fragments of a self and disjunctive experiences of self and experience, but coherence or how the world is navigated has to come from an outside organizing subjectivity: the mother, the reader. Also, there are no brakes on fantasy — fantasy is magical and terrifying at times. For adults and small children alike there are often many blurred spaces.
I wrote Tràma shortly after the 9/11 attacks, when we’d just moved to Florence, and my daughter was three and synagogues in France were being bombed and water in the Tibor and drinking water in Rome had almost been filled with poison, and trains were being exploded in Spain and my Italian neighbors said to me “welcome to the world.” I was like Poor Little One in a spoiled state of wonder, naïveté, and pure shock. Tràma moves like the larvae before it is caught as the specimen, before it looses hold on “potential space” — Winnicott again.

Discourse 2.
Victor: I’m enjoying the way you are playing with the metaphors of the questions. Particularly that of digestive processes and lepidopterology, and I must thank you for indulging my whimsy. The shit-covered Rabbit that represents the “mysterious,” “magical,” “potential” processes of an infant’s digestion — that space which both inundates the economy of the drives, but also floods categories of what is and is not abject and worth ejecting, and the larvae that pre-exists the lepidopterist’s fancy: these both, excrement and butterfly, are specimens par excellence. We’ve relied on them foreva to tell us more about ourselves. This makes new things, by the way, of Alice going down the Rabbit hole — something quite appropriate for how I feel when I read Tràma — except, the timelessness of Alice’s fantasy world is, in your work, something that resembles the emerging history of a subject in the context of (psycho)analysis.
This leads me to wonder about the role of speech, voicing, the circuit of listening in Tràma and your mutual participation as poet and psychotherapist. Consider the following:

page 49, snip snip, from Tràma:
I am speaking to you, Poor Little One. You who knows the sweetness of salt, who believes that money can be gotten from seminaries, and who recognizes the right to camp as a last Will and Testament …
I don’t understand you — said Poor Little One, who began to tremble with fear. Patience! I will speak better: Sapiens put all their errors into their Cities.
from “6 Valentines,” snip snip, from Object 8:
Sacrifices may not result from
recognizable diseases
The girl retains the figure of her
hears a noise: a tick, a knock, or a tap
A woman should protect herself
against the sin
of sexual exploration
The instincts and their vicissitudes
the genitals being one’s real self,
they must be protected
Two little girls in a closet
from the “boy struck” period
Didn’t you ever shimmy down a pole?
Or rupture that bubble? 
Dora the Oral Explorer, aka Dora La Exploradora Oral, is adventuring all over the Freudian landscape of the latter piece, and I sense too a working through of constructions of subjectivity around the mouth, the genitals, the orifices of edification, if we’re talking Old School. This seems to emerge later in Tràma as well — I recall, especially, one of the characters suffering a “night kaka” when he falls into a bear trap? In Tràma, it seems like the history of a subject, say Poor Little One, is a dossier or confabulation that builds around the kernel of an allegorical narrative between the ego and what he says — except, what he says is never clear, formally. The shuttle between speech and narrative forces a double listening, like an auricular double-take — as you say, because there are “no brakes on fantasy” — so, what moves us is the slip of the tongue. I am thinking too of Lacan’s reminder that the analyst “takes the description of an everyday event as a fable addressed to the wise.” This seems like a great and reversible description of some of the processes in your prose. I believe your work as a psychotherapist is in a different vein, but would you say there is a circuit between the speech-based work of psychotherapy and the project at hand? How does your own faith in a circuit between audition and vocality relate to how you work as a poet?
Rosenfield: I really don’t think that we can ever express anything very well through language but it’s (sometimes) the best or only thing we have at our disposal. So much happens outside the aforementioned circuits that is transmitted “unwittingly” in both writing poetic texts and being involved in a co-constructed therapeutic matrix. Yes, emerging histories of a subject in the context of psychoanalysis, but psychoanalysis as its own “sobject”[1] is also one of the histories in the room. What reflects off what?
Like the discovery of mirror neurons that help us understand the meaning of actions as well as actions themselves — this is a neurological function, well outside the limits of language. I think, in my writing, I’m trying to channel my own mirror neurons or at least some collective societal ones. In my clinical practice, I’m trying to do the same while also incorporating someone else’s hard and soft wiring into what organizes me, them, and us. In my poetics, so much more of this can come through in a live reading.
I haven’t seen those Object poems in one million years. I hope I didn’t come across in them as Old School, although they feel very old. I was trying to illuminate the limitations of the Old School. I was trying to enliven constructions of subjectivity through orifices of thinking. Right now, if you were here, you’d see me tweaking my mouth and clenching my buttocks to illustrate this point.
Next discourse please …

Discourse 3.
Victor: The critique of Old School — what a strange phrase now that it also refers to a Will Ferrell movie! — is apparent in several texts in your oeuvre, Kim, from the older poems from Object to more recent work like 10 Perfumes put out by Belladonna, and poems featured in the Gurlesque Anthology, and so on. Your poems from Good Morning — Midnight —, like “Excelsior Reflector” and “Maximum Sapiens,” appropriate, cite, and mangle a wide range of cultural texts from scientific treatises and medical brochures to archaic now “bankrupt” biological theories of race, psychological case studies, pop magazines, cephalic indexes, anthropological texts, canonical literatures, and so on. In “Excelsior Reflector,” for instance, I spot references to William Langland’s Piers Ploughman. In 10 Perfumes, the thematic movements from the ephemeral fragrance of essences towards the putrid stench of political and materialist critique pulses with citations of/to F. T. Marinetti’s work.
These citations suggest ways of reading and attention as classification — but of failed or partial classification, which is very compelling. The intricacy of the network of references certainly multiplies, as you say, “the histories in the room.” But these histories reject the total bankruptcy of some of the documents they are built around, while also eyeing them suspiciously. This is the position that echoes both the shock and naïveté that you referenced earlier — the potential, blurry space of encounter with texts that precedes ideological judgment/acceptance/dismissal that are the symptoms of a (ahem, ahem) “Proper Education.” The larval engagement with many of these cultural materials, prior to pinning them down in the lepidopterist’s archive, is routed so as to return us to questions of gender and the semiotics of gender performance within the contexts of reading. So, to return your question: “What reflects off what?”: would you consider appropriation a way of reading, or re-reading a gendered cultural education?
Rosenfield: Yes, I would, but more as yogic counterbalance — moving opposing forces simultaneously in divergent directions engenders (pun intended) new flow (associations to this word welcome). Please see eloquent discussion above for a fuller answer to these questions. Also, I was raised with an extremely airtight and problematic relationship to authority — respect it at all costs, even if it might harm you, so therein lurks the tension or “blurry space” of my encounters with the Old School. Sadly, some of these archaic theories are not as “bankrupt” as they should be — think Sarah Palin or see Sue Grand’s essay on Sarah Palin — “Strange Vaginas: Us and Them.”[2]

Discourse 4.
Victor: Arielle Greenberg, one of the editors of Gurlesque Anthology, makes an interesting claim about your poems featured in the collection: “Here, as elsewhere in Rosenfield’s work, fashion is made central, adored and fetishized while criticized and deconstructed. The two attitudes coexist in ragged harmony.” I think she’s spot on in claiming this “ragged harmony” — it’s another kind of “blurry space” that we keep returning to in our conversation between the “fetish” and its “deconstruction”; it’s another way of thinking of those erotic zones posited by the difference between a hem and a sock, a sleeve’s end and the hand’s beginning, a lash line and an eyeball, a stiletto and the coy ankle. These raggedly (arbitrarily) demarcated zones of the imaginary body are flayed open as spaces of critique in your poems.
The work takes what we misname “superficial,” like fashion and the semiotics of gendered performance, to its critical end: as an absolute surface for social projection and identity formation in the citation of codes. These codes appear as commodities in your work to crowd every girl’s “own Blueprint for Heaven” as she performs the “unwitting burlesque of base female crime” as an “ever ready & waiting Xerox machine.” Could you say more about your interest in surfaces of projection — the fumus of perfume, the mirrors of fashion, the glad cladding of appropriated robes? How do you imagine the “unwitting burlesque” of the feminine and feminized? How does it relate to your participation in this anthology and your participation as a female poet?
Rosenfield: The work featured in the Gurlesque Anthology is older and very specific to themes of fashion/gender that I was working with at the time. This “ragged harmony”(I really like Arielle’s explanation here) of toggling between both an adoration and critique of these topics was really being sorted out in that text, Good Morning — Midnight —. I was also working out my position in the community as a young female poet who was interested in all the complexities of fashion, makeup, perfume, adornment, and personal/physical aesthetics that I felt were somewhat taboo subjects in my community, or at least considered insignificant. Stacy Doris was the only other writer I knew at that time also investigating these themes. There was an implicit rejection — I felt — of the feminine then, and, being so femmy myself, I had to find a way to work through what I perceived as a gender barrier.
I’ve since shifted my thematic focus less on fashion and more toward science — see re: evolution — and a psychological, linguistic, yoga zone that I can’t really describe — see Lividity forthcoming from Les Figues in 2012. I’m applying the same ragged harmony in that work to blur up a dominant discourse or to carve out a more interactive field that has always been the organizing principle in my work, both as a writer and as a psychotherapist.
Lately I’ve been thinking about this structure as an “as-if” or “invitational” space. When language becomes invitational, posited as a “try-on” rather than “this is so and has always been so,” we begin to experience it as a realm of possibility in which we can consider our most cherished personal and cultural assumptions to be tentative — as if — rather than unchallengeable truths. The as if stance of language helps us accept responsibility for our own belief systems and assumptions. 

Discourse 5.
Victor: Kim, at the end of my interview with Vanessa Place, I asked her to ask one question of the next interviewee, and I will ask you to do the same when we approach the end of our conversation.
Her question to you was this:
Quel est le point de basculement? [3]
What is your response?
Rosenfield: Le point de basculement implique certaines conditions:
Le prix du petit déjeuner comprend un boisson (café, thé, chocolat) servi dans la chambre tous les jours avec du pain, des petits pains ou des croissants, du beurre et parfois de la confiture.
Il ne comprend pas le service dans la salle commune ou au comptoir, le breakfast à l’anglaise (avec oeufs, jambon, gruau …); il diffère généralement du tarif “voyageur” ou “courrier.” [4]

Discourse 6.
Victor: I enjoy the way you’re linking the tentative “trying on” and the responsibility that one does/does not/must/must not assume “for it,” and I am particularly fascinated by what you’re calling an “invitational space” — I was just talking to my students about gender roles and performing dominance, and we got to discussing the current obsession with vampires as upsetting certain ideas of sexual dominance (their argument, not mine) and the issue of the invitation, in which the so-called “victim” must invite (“let the right one in” etc.) the so-called “perpetrator” into a zone in which she can be nominated as such. New vamp/ire ethics. Though the analogy fails here because the reader and writer are more neck-to-neck than necking, imo … anyway. This is perhaps the fanged inverse of your notion of the invitation, but it’s the risk that’s interesting too — that difference between hospitality and hostility has, perhaps, “ne s’entend pas pour,” it is, perhaps implied as, a certain condition.
This praxis of “trying on” does lead me towards your re:evolution more directly — the dialectical somersault between adaptation and maladaptation of forms and “truths” towards the “as if” of creaturehood. There are fantastic mutations and malappropriations in this book, where taxonomic relations between art and the cosmetic are smuggled into Picasso’s studio in Helena Rubenstein’s handbag, where “molecules hang like dinner lamps,” where the exhibition of organs in formaldehyde with furs, bones, and skeletons conspires as a “small collection of deaths,” where vocality is troubled and everything speaks in tongues. The varieties of discourse cited and the types of address to the reader within the poems, as well as the multiple authors “present” in the form of the book, confabulate and fraction out polyvocally.
The book is part of Les Figues Press’ Trench Art: Tracer Series, and in keeping with the tradition, features an introduction by Sianne Ngai, an “analysis” by Diana Hamilton that follows your poems, and a “Research Paper” by Jennifer Calkins. But these genres are parodied even as they are mimicked — imitation as camouflage? These writers respond, collude, conspire, and discuss your work, but seem to do so in a temporality quite different from other book-forms that contain forewords and afterwords. They seem to talk alongside, or with, or over, evolving, mutating, and adumbrating the possibilities of the poems, rather than concluding them for us. How would you describe the process of putting together this form of the book? Do you see it as a collaboration? Other than these writers who are you presently colluding, conspiring, and in conversation with?
Rosenfield: The invitational mood has little in common with the vampyric coding of domination/ submission, victim/victimized, as I understand it (or don’t really understand it at all). But I like this idea from your students that permission needs to be granted, consent must be established before the ultimate takeover. It’s all so titillatingly S/M. I don’t think my work has that kind of direct play with power but is more blurry or muted.
The invitational mood is about this idea that language and ideas are a “try on.” In re: evolution I’m attempting to invite the reader in to formations of history, to shop theories of science, gender, etiquette to browse and see what fits or what doesn’t. My aim is to offer an invitation to break from inherited ideas of “truth and meaning” by offering multiple constructs of language and ideas. Language can thus become an open system of “accumulative fragmentism” (George Kelly) challenging ideas that language gives us access to the way things are. I’m very interested in Irit Rogoff’s work and her ideas of “without.” Without is a frame that encompasses knowing we have a vast array of theoretical models and histories to work from. But what happens when we’ve come to the edge of what they have to offer? We don’t turn our back on them but find ourselves in a new place that does not yet have a form or definition. Without doesn’t operate through lack, but rather through an active attempt to make way for something else to emerge. In re: evolution I was trying to work from that space.
Putting together re: evolution was a very collaborative process. Me, Teresa Carmody, Vanessa Place, Sianne Ngai, Diana Hamilton, Jennifer Calkins, Yedda Morrison, Ken Ehrlich, Susan Simpson — we each contributed a piece to shaping the book and taking it outside the nucleus of the text. Like literary lysosomes! The images and accompanying texts both articulate and mess up further the “authority” of the form and content of the text. Or as you so evolutionistically put it: “mutating” and “adumbrating” the text.
Currently and always, I’m collaborating, conspiring, colluding, and in conversation with my family, my pets, my patients, my study groups, my poetic community, my neighbors, my neighborhood, my city, my state, my country, my race, my gender, my sexuality, my socioeconomic class, my DNA, etc. But I would like to make something with the Mulleavy sisters if they’re listening, and the newly minted ghost of Benoit Mandelbrot.

Discourse 7.
Victor: A question sprouted up today: I was reading a new essay by Judith “Jack” Halberstam and was suddenly reminded of something you had said earlier in our conversation about authority and behavior, something that I too feel quite acutely. I know we are not talking about this, per se — but I am very curious about what you make of this.
We need to craft a queer agenda that works cooperatively with the many other heads of the monstrous entity that opposes global capitalism, and to define queerness as a mode of crafting alternatives with others, alternatives which are not naively oriented to a liberal notion of progressive entitlement but a queer politics which is also not tied to a nihilism which always lines up against women, domesticity and reproduction. Instead, we turn to a history of alternatives, contemporary moments of alternative political struggle and high and low cultural productions of a funky, nasty, over the top and thoroughly accessible queer negativity. If we want to make the anti-social turn in queer theory, we must be willing to turn away from the comfort zone of polite exchange in order to embrace a truly political negativity, one that promises, this time, to fail, to make a mess, to fuck shit up, to be loud, unruly, impolite, to breed resentment, to bash back, to speak up and out, to disrupt, assassinate, shock and annihilate, and, to quote Jamaica Kincaid, to make everyone a little less happy! (from “The Anti-Social Turn in Queer Studies”)
I was raised with an extremely airtight and problematic relationship to authority — respect it at all costs, even if it might harm you, so therein lurks the tension or “blurry space” of my encounters with the Old School. (Discourse 3)
Query: Is there a place in art, as you see it right now, for disobedience, for being a total and excellent bastard, for this claiming of the “anti-social,” for this examination of the fetish of happiness, for the “monstrous”?
Rosenfield: First of all, I love this passage from Halberstam and think her work is extremely important. What I gravitate toward here is the idea of failure, messiness, “disobedience,” as you name it. All these ways to speak of the “anti-social” in poetry offer an attempt to open a new window of discourse (most notably in Flarf and Conceptualism). There is some meta-overlap with queer theory (and we really can’t say this about mainstream poetry that is defined by a long history of lyricism and modernist tradition) in that both are not widely accepted discourses and both certainly do not aim to make everyone happy. I think my work attempts to create that space by fragmentizing subjectivity and trying to do away with the frame that values something as either inside or outside, high or low. I think claiming the “anti-social” always demands roughing up what is culturally considered smooth.

Final Discourse.
Victor: You said that your next book, also coming out from Les Figues, will continue your thematic interest in science as in re:evolution and will move in a “psychological, linguistic, yoga zone.” The title of the book, Lividity, is provocative: it recalls the centrality of the intersection between affective, ethical, and biological responses to the environment that is taken up throughout in your work. I’m thinking especially of “livid” stemming from “bruise” or that bluish blackening of the flesh that suggests both the stagnation and the circulation of blood upon psychic or physical crisis/impact. “Lividity” also suggests “vividity” — both stagnation and exuberance of life forms — and usually refers to expression either of the countenance or verbal forms. But I know nothing else of the project. Could you say more about it here? Is/was this book built around the collaborative model of re:evolution?
Rosenfield: I first heard the term “lividity” in a description of a murder trial in which a body was determined to have been moved based on an assessment of its “lividity,” or way in which the blood had drained and pooled in the points of the body that made contact with the ground. I thought this was an amazing way to think about language and I wanted to make a book in which it felt like blood was draining out of the text, hence a few words/lines per page. I’m not sure if I really pulled this off as I’m prone to excess, so we’ll see. I also like this idea you bring up of “vividity” or “exuberance of life forms” and “expression of verbal forms. The book also deals with language as acquisition, and as a transactional medium, like money — necessary and functional, imbued with power and emotional. I think of Lividity as more of a lone wolf and it won’t be constructed as communally as re: evolution was.
Victor: Kim, talking with you has been an incredible experience, and I am so grateful for the time you’ve spent with my questions. My only wish is that we had face-to-face conversations in addition to this.
Rosenfield: What a pleasure to talk with you vis-à-vis your astute interpolations of my work. I learned so much! Thank you for your unwavering attentiveness.
Victor: At the end of every interview, I request one question from the interviewee for the next interviewee, as a way of generating continuity and conversation between poets, and also as a way of constructing a series of questions that the interview process might have generated for you. Your question, should you choose to provide it, will be put to Myung Mi Kim, verbatim.
Rosenfield: Question for Myung Mi Kim: What is the role of poetry in your personal life and how do you see poetry’s function in the social/political sphere?

1.  For more on “sobject,” see Rob Fitterman and Vanessa Place, Notes on Conceptualisms, published by Ugly Duckling Presse.
2.  Sue Grand, “Strange Vaginas: Us and Them,” in Psychoanalysis, Culture, and Society 2009.
3.  “What is the tipping point?”
4.  “The tipping point implies certain conditions:
The price of breakfast includes a hot drink every day (coffee, tea, hot chocolate) served in one’s room, with bread, rolls or croissants, butter, and sometimes jam.
It does not include: service in the common room or counter service, English breakfast (with eggs, ham, porridge …), and it generally differs from the “traveler’s” or “postman’s” menu.

Kim Rosenfield, Excerpts from “Verbali”
Recuperate krylon cocoa
Recipe brindled aromatics
Predisposed to sensorial schedules daily kaka
Diffusion of disgust
Creation of a network for each agent who participates
in rotting cocoa (pleading of tasting).

The marriage must be celebrated.  I unite 1/2 oleo with the Noble Old!  The Noble

Let me lead you to the base of the brain of the cocoa.  Distilled 100% in mother-bath and limbic ram.  Each time a stoppered bottle comes to penetrate the plantagenates of cocoa, from that thing in the memory, to a time when the earth will be perfumed with cocoa.
The Cult of Cocoa
The cult of Cocoa signifies a belief in gusto and
1) Information of consumerism
2) Conservation of our biodiversity

DON’T SLEEP but combat the logic of the marketplace which has produced a uniform taste and almost extinction of cocoa.  DON’T SLEEP but rise up from the forest and press on the art of respect and patrimonial genetics of each variety borne on an ecosystem complete and delicate.  The noble and oily seeds of the Ancient and New Worlds.
DON’T SLEEP but be a protagonist in this romance of the knight of cocoa”
DON’T SLEEP – bear the logo of cocoa – the rose of cocoa – the corsair flag, all integral ambience.  The forested heritage raining commercialized national genes
DON’T SLEEP but be recognized throughout the world for cruel originality
92% of the harvest of the world will be less pregnant (a bottom taste of razzmatazz and astringency, a grade of superior fermentation)
In this great centennial year, cocoa lives in a salvaged state, declining the best from a vital circle. Interdependent, needing the shade of the banana tree and humid earth
Give me mud, parrots, and small meatballs which are the favorites of cocoa.  Gas, abandoned and gushing from the decomposing fruit of the brain.  Safeguards signify the extinction of pocket-space from the hands of men. Durations of tonsillitis materializing in a war in which we can’t loose our heads.  Undesirable dispersions of viscosity
DON’T SLEEP but be natural and rich like a fruit in season 

Why are secondary aromas so important?
Because there exists a certain + correlation between aromatic traits on the one hand and persistent sweetness and roundness on the other

Esmereldas, warm tropical scent.
The freshness of spring foam, the strabismus of Venus, aftertaste of golden tobacco.

Frankness, the synthesis of the 3 balances of elegance thanks to a soft, fine brush stroke
Porcelana – the pearl of elegance, ricotta in its elegance

(Grazie per pensare)
Best Wishes to all you enamourds
Love is an aspect of perfume splendour lacquer
baking soda ocean ferns air song

Venus cleanses and tones people who take by the hand their kisses 
Walk through the door of this here night 
But people who lead, they are not next
they never will be the people who are next

(The weasel with a branch of rue)
Victory loves care
(The oyster opening in the sun)
Deservedly precious, she came forth from the sky and the sea

Like every year, you risk to create a speculative.  One of the major curiosities will be the presence of the subconscious of Luciano Pavorotti (and Caroline of Monaco who milks her son with love)
Another year and the pharmacy becomes indispensible.  Panorama of medicine.  After having mated a giraffe’s head with a woman of the world and three months before the state proclaimed him the sexiest man of the year, this fascinating actor crescendos (contrary to fathers, doting, and steely auto-controlled)
No.  A woman with propane in the dreams of her desires emphatically adds acid to the presence of another woman and of a child.  The public feminine, a night of underdog love
Napoleon is happy anywhere

What estate becomes a city of the world?
Impaired, strange language, important for your tomorrows 
Important to keep you gassed and also experienced 
Unforgettable, to bring a dove who has a tongue and speaks to us 
A local, international dove, consecrated ragamuffin of 50 Easters 
The spy who studies becomes peaceful and also diverting!

I am woman
I am not demented
extravagant, singular, extracted, curious, counter-current, nor of a volcanic and electric nature

I will continue on this road to master my passions
Fishing for allure, style, and fascism of man
What body do you want?
Marvels have allies

(A proverb recited each night, with every scandal, will ensure 3 days of marvels) 

In this region, in this world of ours, rich in grain and rubbed evidently with emotion, is truly the marvel of our fugue. With its negative and positive polarities like a manifesto of all animal states complete and befogged, resuscitated from memorabilia.  That is to say, from the most beautiful person that can provoke admiration and joy, in a word, blitz 
Marvels are not a simple surprise. Nor a co-payment for closure in time.  An alabaster core with something that we cannot visit but evaporates into quasi-existence.  Many volts to treat a funny piston